Friday, March 27, 2015

California Highway One Discovery Route: Hearst Castle

By Emma Krasov, photography by Yuri Krasov

The majestic Pacific coast near the old-world village of San Simeon in the northern part of California Highway One Discovery Route is crowned with an architectural jewel – the iconic Hearst Castle National and California Historical Landmark.  
Imagined by the legendary newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst as his “ranch at San Simeon,” and built by a notorious female San Francisco architect Julia Morgan in the course of many years between 1919 and 1947, the grand estate remains unfinished, yet magnificently beautiful, adorned with countless pieces of art brought from Europe and Asia, and open to the public on a variety of themed tours.

I pick a tour called “Upstairs Suites,” because Mr. Hearst’s office is a part of it, and I’m very curious to see it.
A huge shuttle bus takes me and other visitors from the parking lot, and soon we listen to the audio narrative while ascending a steep hill which Mr. Hearst called, “La Cuesta Encantada” (The Enchanted Hill).
At the very top of the hill there’s a palm grove surrounding the two “bell towers” (after the cathedral in Rhonda, Spain) of the Mediterranean Revival estate filled with art and antiques, and kept in pristine condition.

Besides the stunningly designed and opulently decorated work office of the publishing magnate, the upstairs facilities of “Casa Grande” contain guest bedrooms with their original furnishings, and sometimes a period dress and a string of pearls thrown across a bed, with a pair of gold or silver shoes underneath the bed for an added effect.

The Hearst Castle skilled tour guides never fail to encourage their listeners to imagine themselves as the guests of the house, invited for a night of partying with Hollywood movie stars and other celebrities.

Every tour includes a visit to the indoor pool sparkling with 24K gold tiles, giving the guides an opportunity to quip that if usually “not all that glitters is gold” here it is!       

After the tour, I walk the grounds of the enchanted hill, discovering hidden gems of garden plants and sculptures on every step of the way.
Back downhill, at the ticket office facility, there’s a daily all-day showing of a documentary, “Building the Dream,” and a small museum with a comprehensive collection of historical photographs and an exhibition of materials used to build the Castle, where visitors are allowed to touch them.    
Tours at Hearst Castle usually sold out fast, so it’s advisable to order them in advance. More information at: www.hearstcastle.org.

10 unique destinations of California Highway One Discovery Route – San Simeon, Ragged Point, Cambria, Cayucos, Los Osos/Baywood Park, Avila Beach & Valley, Edna Valley, Arroyo Grande Valley, Oceano and Nipomo – described here: www.highway1discoveryroute.com.
For more information see Cayucos Visitor Guide http://www.winecoastcountry.com/cayucos-visitor-guide/.
To learn about historical and cultural attractions along California Highway One Discovery Route, visit:  http://www.winecoastcountry.com/history-culture-tour/.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

California Highway One Discovery Route: Stewardship Travel Initiative

By Emma Krasov, photography by Yuri Krasov
  California Highway One Discovery Route is a road trip like no other. Breathtaking views of the Pacific, its rugged cliffs, wind-twisted cypresses, and orange sunsets are inevitably enlivened by viewings of abundant wildlife – like endlessly entertaining elephant seals whose mating and breeding grounds are found in the vicinity of Ragged Point.

To help these gorgeous (in their own way) animals and the rest of the coastal wildlife survive, Stewardship Travel – a unique program providing tourists with opportunities to learn, connect, and contribute to the safety of the environment – was recently implemented in San Luis Obispo County.

The program allows travelers driving along the California Highway One Discovery Route dedicate a couple hours a day volunteering for the local environmental cause, or schedule a travel adventure to a natural, cultural or historic site. Activities vary from planting native flowers, contributing to a historic lighthouse, becoming a "citizen scientist" at a nature center, or taking part in a beach cleanup or. There are more than 70 activities and contribution opportunities in more than ten locations along the California Central Coast designed to add deeper meaning to any vacation.

My Stewardship Cleanup Kit, which I pick up at the Cayucos Visitor’s Center, includes a certified compostable BioBag, a doggy MuttMitt, a pair of lightweight plastic gloves, a golf pencil, and a Beach Cleanup Checklist with a slew of the usual suspects to mark upon removal from the beach: cigarette butts, cans and bottles, caps, cups, six-pack rings, rubber flip flops, clothes, paper, nets and fishing gear, plastic bags and utensils, Styrofoam, food wrappers, etc. – the all-too-familiar offenders of our beautiful California coast. What a great way to follow the Stewardship Travel motto, “Stay. Play. Connect. Care.”           

10 unique destinations of California Highway One Discovery Route – San Simeon, Ragged Point, Cambria, Cayucos, Los Osos/Baywood Park, Avila Beach & Valley, Edna Valley, Arroyo Grande Valley, Oceano and Nipomo – described here: www.highway1discoveryroute.com.
For more information see Cayucos Visitor Guide http://www.winecoastcountry.com/cayucos-visitor-guide/.
To learn about historical and cultural attractions along California Highway One Discovery Route, visit:  http://www.winecoastcountry.com/history-culture-tour/.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

California Highway One Discovery Route: Harmony

By Emma Krasov, photography by Yuri Krasov
 
Would you like to live in harmony? Who wouldn’t! Well, judging from the road sign on the most picturesque stretch of California Highway One Discovery Route in San Luis Obispo County, not too many of us would. The green road sign between the towns of Cambria and Cayucos reads, “Harmony. Population 18.” No, there are no missing zeros after the 18, and according to one (and arguably the only) permanent resident of this microscopic community this number significantly declined since the sign has been installed.    

Founded in 1869 as a dairy community, Harmony lost most of its business and consequently its population by mid-20th century, and currently remains a tiny one-street geographical wonder mostly known for its pottery and a glassblowing studio, called Harmony Glassworks.

Driven by curiosity and affinity for this particular art form, I stop at Harmony on my travels along the Discovery Route, and walk into the glass studio. Here I meet the owner, Eric Dandurand; his guest – a glass artist from Oregon, who’s working on colorful seashells with enviable precision, and some studio staff busily operating with liquid glass and open fire to create the amazing light-filled pieces seen everywhere throughout the facility.

Eric shares his artist’s statement, which I am compelled to quote in its entirety, “I imagine my works as being in families for generations, as being initiators of conversations and as being sources of joy for their guardians. I am proud to be a glassblower. I admire both the creative and technical aspects of glass. It is a fascinating medium that enables me to go into that no-time zone and flow.”

Come to think of it, there’s lots of harmony remaining in Harmony after all…
For more information see Cayucos Visitor Guide http://www.winecoastcountry.com/cayucos-visitor-guide/.
10 unique destinations of California Highway One Discovery Route – San Simeon, Ragged Point, Cambria, Cayucos, Los Osos/Baywood Park, Avila Beach & Valley, Edna Valley, Arroyo Grande Valley, Oceano and Nipomo – described here: www.highway1discoveryroute.com.
To learn about historical and cultural attractions along California Highway One Discovery Route, visit:  http://www.winecoastcountry.com/history-culture-tour/.

Tartuffe at Berkeley Rep Sparkles with Multitalented Cast, Precise Direction

By Emma Krasov
  
Moliere’s Tartuffe, a classic play first produced in 1664, and destined to remain a theatrical staple through the ages, continues to be discovered by new generations of theater goers as any classic should – by remaining relevant thanks to its profound exploration of human nature.
The main character – a hypocritical preacher of piety, purity and humility, who never misses an opportunity to steal, deceive, and stab his benefactors in the back – is one of the least endearing yet most enduring human types on the world stage, as well as, sadly, in our world’s everyday life.    
In the Berkeley Rep’s current production (adapted by David Ball and directed by Dominique Serrand) Tartuffe is brilliantly portrayed by the favorite returning star, Steven Epp. His character oozes evil thoughts and deeds tightly wrapped in thick verbal honey – cloying, viscous, and penetrating the very souls of everyone who happens to be near – his gullible friends and his skeptical foes alike.

Suzanne Warmanen in the role of a sharp-tongued servant Dorine creates quite a stir of hilarity in the audience each time when she utters a funny remark or just dashes across the stage in her comically-decisive whirlwind moves.  
Perfectly timed physical precision marks the performances of Lenne Klingman (Mariane) and Christopher Carley (Valere) in a remarkably hilarious yet poignant scene of the lovers’ quarrel.
Nathan Keepers (Laurent) sends out waves of mental shiver in his masterful depiction of a sleek and creepy Tartuffe’s devotee.     

Luverne Seifert (Orgon) and Sofia Jean Gomez (Elmire) represent a textbook picture of spousal alienation [from a contemporary point of view, of course] with husband falling into a stranger’s brainwashing trap and wife going to undignified extremes to prove him wrong.

The entire web of psychological co-dependencies, suppressed emotions and boiling outrages is seamlessly put together through the keenly honed direction, and supported by the entire talented cast and crew (Scenic design by Dominique Serrand and Tom Buderwitz; highly-creative and imaginary costume design by Sonya Berlovitz; lighting design by Marcus Dilliard; sound design by Corinne Carrillo).
Tartuffe runs at Berkeley Rep (Addison@Shattuck, Berkeley, California) through April 12. More information and tickets at: 510-647-2949 and www.berkeleyrep.org. Images: courtesy Berkeley Rep.

Dame Edna Throws Caustic Jokes, Bracelets, Gladioli into the San Francisco Crowd

By Emma Krasov
 The outrageous Melbourne housewife Dame Edna Everage has no notion of age. Or gender. Or political correctness. She won’t spare your religious feelings (should you possess any), nor your understanding of the sanctity of marriage, nor any other sanctity you happen to revere.
She’s irreverent, snide, snarky, and if you happen to sit close enough to the stage for her to see you – she won’t hesitate to call you a senior citizen if you are 10 years younger than herself, or a soon-to-be-a-fatso in need to move to Des Moines if you are a beautiful young female of 20-something.

Comedy lovers of the world – consider yourselves warned. “Dame Edna’s Glorious Goodbye, the Farewell Tour” by Dr. Barry Humphries, AO CBE has rattled the SHN Orpheum Theater in San Francisco last week, and it might not be what it proclaims to be – the farewell tour! Most likely, she’ll be back with a vengeance just when you think she’s spat out her last biting remarks (along with her Van Cleef & Arpels $250 000 bracelets and her trademark colorful gladioli), with the assistance of her talented ensemble – Ralph Coppola, Brooke Pascoe, Eve Prideaux, and Armando Yearwood, Jr. The show, directed by Simon Phillips, with musical direction and onstage accompaniment by Jonathan Tessero, choreography by Eve Prideaux, set design by Brian Thomson, lighting design by Aaron Spivey, and costume design by Stephen Adnitt continues to Palm Desert, Toronto, and Washington DC through the end of April.
More information at: www.dameednafarewell.com 

Toffee Talk Introduces New Creations at San Francisco Chocolate Salon

By Emma Krasov, photography by Yuri Krasov

Toffee Talk – a San Francisco-based company – won several awards this year, among them Grand Master Six Star Award at the 9th Annual San Francisco Chocolate Salon organized by TasteTV.
Constantly in search of exciting flavors and enticing ways to make their confections irresistible, the company introduces something new each year, and this time everyone’s favorite crunchy pretzels imbedded in toffee, nuts, and chocolate concoctions have made their appearance.
Accompanied by almonds, pecans, walnuts, and rare red walnuts, mini pretzels are a welcome texture addition to Toffee Talk’s traditional “conversation pieces.”
Founded by Catherine Hughes in 2009, and joined by the founder’s cousin and best friend Ellin Purdom, the company uses family recipes handed down by Catherine’s godmother Suzi Soper – a toffee master in her own right.
Besides making the best toffee in town (and the most demanding gourmet town to that – San Francisco!) Toffee Talk creates wonderful gift packages of all sizes to encourage more enjoyment and… more toffee talk.
Various toffee creations from Toffee Talk come in individual fun snack size pieces, in see-through cellophane bags with a pretty bow, in eco-friendly corrugated Kraft boxes, in sleek shiny tins, and even in Mason jars in the form of Ms. Purdom’s “Crumble Mumble” – little bits of toffee, chocolate and nuts to sprinkle on ice cream, yogurt, or oatmeal.
No matter how you like it, Toffee Talk mostly likely has it. More information and ordering at: 415-929-7852 or www.cjstoffeetalk.com   

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Reed & Greenough in San Francisco’s Marina District Has It All

By Emma Krasov, photography by Yuri Krasov

Happy hour on a weekday or a late night weekend outing with friends – Reed & Greenough in the Marina District, San Francisco, is filled to the brims with a boisterous crowd of well-dressed 20 to 30-somethings. A bachelorette party is seated next to a bunch of Big Bang Theory-type guys; an occasional couple is vying for a tiny table in a corner; new arrivals observing the scene from a nook by the door, all greeted by an energetic bartender…  The prevailing mood is festive, the noise level is high, and the service is brisk and friendly – an ideal setting for a night on the town.


Reed & Greenough’s cocktail menu is divided into two unequal parts – Favorites (8 creative libations) and Classics (just 2).  That seems sufficient, especially that the Favorites include a signature Braveheart – less sweet, with a distinct ginger punch, made of Glenfiddich 15 whisky, ginger, honey, lemon juice and Angostura bitters.  On the Classics list, the Boulevardier is made with Bullet Rye, Campari, and Martelletti sweet vermouth.

The wine list is mostly comprised of California vintages with quite a few international labels, and the beer list contains great quality local brews alongside such treasures as Delirium Tremens and Delirium Nocturnum – the best of Belgium is you ask me.
Recently, Reed & Greenough introduced its “Wines by the Week” program to bring awareness to new and emerging producers. Each week, a featured red and white wine is offered for $7 a glass with information on the winemakers behind each glass.

To complement the drinks, on the Snacks menu there is a cheese plate, Manchego El Trigal – raw sheep’s milk cheese from Spain aged 18 months, assorted crackers, and black and green olives marinated in olive oil, garlic, arbol chili, orange zest, rosemary and thyme. Quite a sophisticated bar food!

There’s also a selection of spreads, each served in a small Mason jar with crackers and cucumber slices on a side for dipping. The gourmet spreads include Pimento Cheese (sharp cheddar and piquillo peppers), Fava Bean Hummus (with sesame, garlic, fennel, and cayenne), Smoked Trout (with fresh dill and lemon), Deviled Ham (with spicy mustard and butter pickles), and Artichoke (with caramelized onions and soft cream).  
Reed & Greenough serves late night light bites until 1 a.m. from Monday through Saturday.  Happy hour begins promptly at 5 p.m. and runs until 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and all day Sunday.  In addition to fine cocktails, wine, beer, and snacks, Reed & Greenough offers shuffleboard and pool tables, and a selection of music including light house and indie selections.
“I think that our guests most love that we care about their entire experience,” says owner Paul Owens. “We want people to be able to order a great drink without waiting for it to be presented ‘just so’. We want them to feel relaxed and enjoy conversations, or maybe even a friendly game of table shuffleboard in the back of the bar.”
Reed & Greenough is a popular neighborhood spot to enjoy cocktails and comfort food after work, before dinner and on weekend nights.  With a warm and inviting atmosphere, it’s perfect for casual events, dates, parties and late night bites, and offers comfortable seating for groups of all sizes including tall top tables, intimate nooks with leather armchairs and banquettes, and plush seating along the mezzanine. A fitting location for special events and private parties at 128 capacity this space can be reserved by calling (415) 913-7021 or contacting info@reed@greenough.com.

Reed & Greenough is located at 3251 Scott Street, between Lombard and Chestnut in San Francisco. Open Tuesday through Sunday, 5 p.m. - close. Closed Mondays.  For more information visit www.reedandgreenough.com.

Happy Hour in San Francisco: John Colins and Takoba – Match Made in Heaven

By Emma Krasov, photography by Yuri Krasov

It’s been ten years since John Guiffre and Colin O’Malley opened their cleverly named joint John Colins, now in the bustling art-meets-business SoMa district of San Francisco.  
Anyone familiar with the city’s foodie paradise would tell you that a decade in the restaurant industry here is like a century in any other enterprise – only the strongest and the most relevant survive…  

 “We want to raise our glass to toast our staff and customers for their loyalty and support over the years,” said O’Malley on the occasion. “In the past decade, we’ve seen so many changes in the bar scene; our bartenders have always been able to access the trends while providing a friendly vibe that really resonates with our guests. It's a magical synergy that we are very proud to be a part of.”

For its remarkable anniversary, this “happy hour mainstay” unveiled a new cocktail menu with a tropical theme, and added a cozy sushi mezzanine Takoba that sits 20, with chef Mark Hayashida (previously Ritz-Carlton Los Angeles, Blowfish San Jose, Skool San Francisco) at the helm, and his female counterpart Kasey Howard (formerly Yoshi’s San Francisco) serving up made to order nightly specials.

The downstairs bar’s revamped décor with an oversized screen projecting tropical islands views and a busy dance floor with DJ music Thursday through Saturday serve as a festive backdrop for creative cocktails prepared with a lightning speed behind the solid wood bar. Above it, a surfboard with a depiction of a legendary sea monster – the giant squid Kraken – actually refers to a logo for black spiced rum.

New “Manhattan Beach” (Mt. Gay Rum, carpano antica vermouth, tiki bitters and ginger topped with a dark cherry and orange zest), “Hi-Tai” with hibiscus syrup, “Dirty Sailor” (Sailor Jerry Rum, fresh lime, agave, peach bitters and cracked pepper), John Colins’s  namesake – Bourbon Sour with fresh orange, lemon and honey, and other classic and/or reimagined cocktails are served during happy hour each day of the workweek, and can be ordered to be delivered upstairs to Takoba for a wonderful sushi pairing.   

The chef’s selection of nigiri and sashimi usually includes maguro, sake, hamachi, hirame, shiro maguro, kani, walu, uni, inari, ankimo, and saba (house-cured) alongside a variety of delectable, bursting with freshness rolls, like John Colin’s (tequila-cured salmon, spicy tuna, crab, lemon, spicy aioli) and Takoba (spicy tuna, kyuri, topped with maguro, salmon, habanero basil aioli).  
 
In ten years’ time, Giuffre and O’Malley, owners and lead bartenders at John Colins, by investing their own labor and using the artistic talents of their staff (look at the upstairs ceiling squid painting, for example) created a truly San Franciscan unique establishment, popular with the locals and well-worth visiting by out-of-towners.

John Colins is located at 138 Minna Street at New Montgomery. Open Monday – Thursday from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m., Fridays from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. and Saturdays from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. Special Xtra serving famous Blue Bottle Coffee is open 7:30 a.m. – 4 p.m. Monday – Friday. More details at www.johncolins.com.

George Dickel Tennessee Whisky Reveals its Secrets at Tosca Café in San Francisco

By Emma Krasov, photography by Emma Krasov (with additional images courtesy George Dickel Tennessee Whisky)
 
George Dickel Tennessee Whisky – a special handmade brand of superior quality renowned since 1870 – was introduced to the San Francisco panel of spirits experts and media at a special tasting dinner at the beloved city institution, Tosca Café (242 Columbus Ave.) earlier this month.

George Dickel National Brand Ambassador Doug Kragel led a multi-course whisky tasting paired with Tosca’s trademark specialties, and mediated a lively discussion on the art of whisky production. Mr. Kragel presented a long history of Dickel whisky in its remarkable evolution from “straight bourbon made in the State of Tennessee” to a variety of sophisticated spirits highly enjoyable on their own or in creative cocktail combinations.  
A fun fact from the production routine of Dickel whisky: “We make our own charcoal from Tennessee sugar maple – the specific sort of wood,” said Mr. Kragel. “We burn sugar maple in the backyard of the Tullahoma Tennessee Visitors Center, and use the charcoal to filter whisky through this neutral substance. It’s like a giant Brita filter.”   

A celebrity chef Adam Perry Lang participated in the event showcasing his portable spice cabinet equipped with spice jars, grinders, mixers, and even a lava stone to hit them up. He explained that well-seasoned meats and rightly spiced side dishes are the best accompaniment to Dickel whisky.

As for Tosca (executive chef Josh Even) – an enticing menu for the event started with crispy pig tail appetizers, followed by the freshest Market Salad with wild oregano vinaigrette, toasted pumpkin seeds, and parmesan, and “Point Reyes Blue” Salad with heirloom chicories, Calabrian chili croutons, and crispy shallots.

Pasta dishes included delectable Gemelli with black pepper and pecorino Toscano, and Bucatini with tomato sauce. Main courses were Whole Roasted Chicken with ricotta, pine nuts, and marsala, and Roasted Veal Shank with garlic, anchovy, and white wine with side dishes of Crispy Potatoes in pork fat with garlic and rosemary, and crispy Brussels Sprouts.

For dessert, the guests enjoyed Tosca’s famous Tiramisu with grated orange zest, prepared in upside down giant glass domes.       

Delectable cocktails, prepared with George Dickel whisky were created by Joe Cleveland of Tosca Café, and can be easily replicated at home:
Boulevard #12
.5 oz. George Dickel No. 12
.5 oz. Campari
.5 oz. Grand Classico
Directions: Build in a mixing glass. Add all ingredients to the mixing glass. Add ice and stir. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange peel.
Dickle Rye Sour
.75 oz. George Dickle Rye
.5 oz. Montenegro
.75 oz. Lemon Juice
Float of Red Wine
Directions: Build in a shaking tin. Add everything except wine float. Add ice and shake. Double strain into an ice filled rocks glass. Float wine off the back of a spoon into drink. Garnish with a lemon peel and cherry.
More information at: www.georgedickel.com, www.toscacafesf.com